In a year where history could be made, you cannot acknowledge the success of the Wisconsin Badgers without the contributions of their senior class.
Going through coaching changes, turmoil, and adversity in their time in Madison, this group bonded and is now leading the program into new territory. They won their 43rd game on Saturday, the most in school history across a four-year period.
“Well, certainly, really, I thought what a great way to finish out their time playing in Camp Randall,” head coach Paul Chryst said after Wisconsin’s 24-10 win over the Michigan Wolverines. “I thought Alec James said it really well that, you know, when they were younger, there was older players that taught them how to go about it and how to play and kind of led the way. ‘This is how you win.’
“I think this senior group that’s with us here has done a great job of leading our younger players, and for that, you’re forever grateful and appreciate it. It’s certainly memorable when you play your last game, and to do it in the fashion that they did, in my opinion, a really good team win. It was big.”
Thirteen seniors were honored before the game on Saturday, and all have played roles in UW’s first 11–0 start in school history.
Outside linebackers Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs have solidified a position group that lost NFL rookies T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel, combining for 11 sacks and 19 tackles for loss this season. Against Michigan, Dooley recorded a sack and a quarterback hurry, while Jacobs’s forced fumble at the goal line took points off the board for Michigan.
For that matter, Jacobs is the school’s all-time leader in games played at 56, and that mark can still rise.
Natrell Jamerson locked down the free safety spot after Leo Musso left and has quietly become one of the team’s most solid players. He’s instrumental to both the defense and special teams units. With D’Cota Dixon injured at times this season, redshirt senior Joe Ferguson has stepped up into a huge role, tying for the team lead in interceptions
Wisconsin’s defense would not be what it is without three veteran defensive ends: Conor Sheehy, Chikwe Obasih, and Alec James, who have played 148 games heading into next week’s regular-season finale. Sheehy and James are team captains, and the latter has put together an amazing redshirt senior season in which he is second on the team in sacks (5.5) and fourth in overall tackles (41).
You cannot forget the contributions of graduate transfer Rachid Ibrahim nor fourth year cornerback Lubern Figaro. Ibrahim has stepped up as Wisconsin’s third-down back with Chris James missing games due to injury, while Figaro has been a key component on special teams after filling in for Jamerson last season as the third cornerback.
“The Amazing Tindal,” cornerback Derrick Tindal, may not have had the best day against Michigan in allowing a 48-yard completion and having a holding penalty called against him, but he did recover the goal-line fumble. On the season, he has been stellar in forming one of the best cornerback duos in college football with Nick Nelson. Like Jamerson, he has been a significant contributor on special teams.
With two rushing touchdowns this year, fullback Austin Ramesh has become the goal-line and short-yardage expert, the go-to call in these situations. His lead blocking while also proving dynamic with the ball in his hands is a nostalgic throwback to the days when fullbacks were more utilized across the sport.
There are also are two former walk-ons, both now team captains, who should play on Sundays. Though he tore his ACL during fall camp and missed his final year, inside linebacker Jack Cichy’s energy on and off the field cannot be understated. “Three Sack Jack,” or “Cich’,” will be remembered by many for the way he played the game in Madison.
Tight end Troy Fumagalli, a preseason All-American, is now a Mackey Award and Burlsworth Trophy semifinalist, and now leads the team in receptions. He’s a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses, and will join the list of great Badgers in his position group alongside the likes of Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, and Lance Kendricks.
This team currently has a mix of veterans stepping up and leading, but also boasts an explosive set of mature younger players (Jonathan Taylor, four wide receivers including the injured Quintez Cephus) who have emerged.
The program is set up for continued success, as those current juniors and underclassmen will in all likelihood continue the precedent set forth in the locker room.
Inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly
The duo combined for 21 tackles, four for loss, and a pass break-up apiece in the win. Edwards also added a sack on Saturday. Though the position group has lost the likes of Cichy for the year and Chris Orr for an undetermined amount of time, this is still one of the strengths of the defense.
Wide receiver A.J. Taylor
His 51-yard reception on a third-down throw from quarterback Alex Hornibrook kept the drive alive on Wisconsin’s go-ahead touchdown series. Taylor was later rewarded with a 24-yard touchdown catch. His three receptions for 79 yards led the team.
Cornerback Nick Nelson
Two more pass break-ups allowed the Hawaii transfer to break the school’s single-season record in that category. His 50-yard punt return for Wisconsin’s first score allowed the Badgers to take an early lead that was much needed against an opportune and physical Michigan squad.
Play(s) of the game
1a and 1b on the same drive resulted in Wisconsin’s go-ahead touchdown. The pass interference call on Michigan on Tyree Kinnel on a 2nd-and-14 gave Wisconsin its first first down of the second half, giving UW some room to work with as opposed to being backed up deep in its own territory.
Three plays later, Hornibrook’s pass to Taylor, which was perfectly thrown and caught, pushed Wisconsin into Michigan territory and set up the southpaw’s 24-yard strike to Taylor to go up 14-10.
Honorable mention (Chryst said it’s a team effort, right?): Jacobs’s forced fumble on Peters in the second quarter; Nelson’s punt return for a touchdown
- Wisconsin has now won 11 games in three of its last four seasons.
- Chryst and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are the only two Big Ten head coaches since 1996 to win 20 of their first 25 conference games.
- Wisconsin’s eighth conference win of the year set a new school record.
- Ben Mason’s one-yard touchdown for Michigan in the second quarter halted a streak of six consecutive quarters (106:48 of game time) that Wisconsin’s defense did not allow a score.
- Wisconsin has only trailed for a grand total of eight minutes, 49 seconds in second halves this season.
- Hornibrook became the 10th Badger in school history to throw for over 2,000 yards in a season (2,006).
- Taylor (19 rushes, 132 yards) has now rushed for over 100 yards in eight of his 11 games. He now has four 50-yard-plus runs this season with the 52-yard gallop against Michigan.